Theory of Perception, Hallucinations, and Philosophy of consciousness

Taken from Phil 132 with John Searle. Prompt + 3 page limit response

“A criticism of Searle’s theory of perception is it cannot be a realist account of perception. For example, Searle’s theory cannot discern between an hallucination and a verdicial perceptual experience so how can it legitimately claim to be a realist theory of visual perception?“

The traditional “problem of perception” has revolved around the interaction between the relation of our internal perceptual experiences to the external world. John Searle’s account of visual perception lies within the context of Intentionality, and endorses a form of direct realism regarding perception, as addressed within his book “Intentionality”. This view is centered around the idea of having visual experiences as intentional states with conditions of satisfactions that are caused by objects in the material world. The distinction between perceptual content and the object of perception is the primary flaw in which Searle addresses as “the worst mistake in western philosophy” — The Bad Argument. Criticisms of Searle’s theory deny its ability of putting the external world in contact with the subjective one, as is the case of “sense datum” arguments of Representationalists citing the indistinguishable visual experience of a mere hallucination of an object versus the visual experience with the presence of the object in the material world. A second criticism of Searle’s approach introduces the notion of illusory visual experiences by way false or misleading beliefs by the mind. On this account, our perceptual apparatus may produce a visual experience on a false belief or intentional state that is not correlated with the material object in the external world. A third common criticism on Searle’s theory of perception comes from a Disjunctivist point of view, which adopts a form of naive realism approach, unlike Representationalists and Phenomenalists, yet criticizes Searle’s theory on its inability to distinguish between a hallucinatory case and a veridical perceptual experience, concluding that there is no shared, important perceptual state between both cases of perceptual experience. Searle however, maintains his stance on his realist theory of visual perception by clarifying the distinction between the content versus object of perceptual states, stating all perceptual states contain contents, but not all perceptual states have objects of the external world. With this claim, he is able to defend his realist stance of visual perception through his causal explanation of visual experience.

Once this distinction between objects and contents of visual experience is adopted, Searle asserts that no barrier exists between our acceptance of ontologically objective objects of perception are external, mind-independent entities shared in the common word, and our ontologically subjective perceptual content in which we experience how the world is presented to us. Searle’s theory begins with the concept of Intentional States, or the property of certain mental states by which they are directed at or of objects in the real world. Each intentional state, or visual experience in the case of perception, contains the necessary proposition “of such and such”, indicating a causal relation between the external object causing a subject to have a visual experience of the targeted object. These propositional phrases are the conditions of satisfactions of visual intentional states, which determine the veridicality, or the success in achieving fit of these conditions, of the visual experience. Therefore, Searle asserts that we see objects in the external world directly, but the act of seeing an object causes a subject to have a visual experience of the object, which is what we experience. The notion of perceiving then has a notion of succeeding, whereas the notion of experience is what determines the success of such conditions of satisfactions that produces the perceiving of an object. Awareness of these experiences and the causal interactions they are involved in provides the direct link to the ontologically objective objects, and when conditions of visual experiences are satisfied, it gives our subjective consciousness direct access to it in accordance to a realist view of visual perception. On this account, it is entirely possible to have a visual perception, such as a hallucination, without the conditions of satisfactions being satisfied with an object in the external world. In this case, we do not see anything, we have a visual perception of something. This failure to achieve a veridical visual experience is an instance of a visual experience, not the external world, that is at fault. Critics who attack Searle’s position as a not realist theory of visual perception predominately reject this aspect of his argument.

Various counter-arguments include the hallucination, illusion, and perceptual-error arguments in which Searle claims rests on the same elementary error as the Bad Argument. The Representatlists claim that hallucinatory visual experiences of the same type as a veridical visual experience are phenomenologically indistinguishable and thus, the object of perception is only ever presented as a representational account towards our perceptual system as “sense datum”, which evidently rejects direct realism and subsequently reduces to a form of solipsism. This counter-argument is addressed by Searle in his emphasis on the distinction between perceptual content and perceptual object, with which he is able to explain the nature of hallucinations in a way that aligns with a realist view of perception. The second argument includes the possibility of a person mistaking “an armadillo” with “a tumbleweed”, in which a falsified belief led to the perceptual experience of a false representation of the world. This in turn questions the ability prove the existence of the external world, if illusions exists may plague our visual apparatus. Searle acknowledges the fact that we can have mistaken perceptions, but this mistake is in the perceptual content rather than the existence of perceptual material objects in the external word that cause perception. By removing the concept of sense data as a representation of reality and separating the content of perception with the object of perception, we are able to link the material world with the internal world through the roles of experiences and intentionality of those experiences, which then maintains a realist account of visual perception.

The last clarification Searle addresses is that visual experience is a presentational ontology, as it is representational in every sense besides the concept of having a replica thought-object representation that models the real world objects, as the “sense datum” argument presents. It’s with these aspects of Searles theory of perception that he is able to maintain his realist view of visual perception.